Friday, May 15, 2009

TREATISE by Cornelius Cardew



Well, here I am back, back at working in a local performance center ticket office, selling series subscriptions and the like. Summer is here, school is out for a few months, and it's time to dive into summer projects. Still working through the book "Simple Composition" by Charles Wuorinen, from a recommendation that I got from both Ethan Iverson and Dave Douglas. It's a theory book that takes you through methods of serial music, and I read from both Iverson and Douglas that it helped them construct 12 tone lines to use in improvised music. While at work now, its easy for me if we're slow to study a few pages, and sketch out a few examples to pass the time, and study theory simaltaneously (AND GET PAID FOR IT!).


My other summer project while at work, is to compose a realization of Cornelius Cardew's "Treatise." There is a wonderful animated website right here, describing the piece and possible ways to interpret it. Also some interviews and additional links/resources at this site. Essentially the piece is almost 200 pages of graphic notation, without any explanation to how to play it. The picture at the top of this post is the first page of the piece. Later on in this posting I will go over how I interpreted that page. In an interview with Cardew that I read he says that the point of the piece is for the musician(s) to come up with their own system to interpret the symbols, and to play it using their own ideas of what things mean. I am currently devising a system, that I am adding to the deeper I delve into the score.

Parameters that I have set are as followed: The instrumentation will be multitracked double bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, melodica and voice, with the possibility of preparing the string instruments (with paper, metal, wood, etc...). I have thought about it as something that will be completely controlled by myself, as far as playing all the parts, recording it on my own equipment, and manipulating the material to play it using my system as best of my ability. So, from the earlier website I posted above, the main idea was how to go about taking these symbols, and interpreting them with pitches, rhythms/durations, timbre/instrumentation, and dynamics. I have come up with a few rules:

1) Throughout the piece there is a blackline, like a "life line" that goes throughout each page, and occasionally is distorted by the notation, but is there for 90 percent of the time or more. My parameter for the line, is that it represents a drone, which I am playing arco on double bass. To be able to musically markthe difference between the pages of the score, I am having this bass part change drones at the start of each new page, to a different pitch.
2) The instrumentation is as followed; the top of the page is melodica, closer to but above the "life line" is acoustic guitar, below the "life line" is electric bass, and at the bottom of the page is double bass pizz. If the score gets very dense with symbols, only then will I assign the voice to some of the ideas expressed.
3) Circles in the piece represent long tones, and the bigger the circle the longer the duration.
4) Squares represent harmonics.
5) Numbers that crop up in the piece stand for the number of short sounds that are to be played by the melodica. So if the number "2" is shown, then the melodica plays any two pitches, or 2 chords, but with very short durations on each note(s).
6) If there is a line that is curved, I have been intrepreting that as dynamics, either getting louder or softer, sometimes expressed with a volume swell, if it's assigned to the electric bass.
7) If there are additional bar lines, or staves, or a collection of parallel lines, I have been assigning those as "noise" with some sort of additional parameter, depending on how the lines appear, or what direction they go in.

So to realize the first page, which is the page at the very top, it starts with the numbers 3 and 4, so it is 3 short melodica sounds, a pause, and then 4 short melodica sounds. The line that follows I expressed as a dowel rod in the acoustic guitar strummed once, then a pick scrape starting at a high pitch that descends. The bowed bass is bowing an open G, except for when the circles overtake the line, and when the circe with the line through it comes up, the bass drone is doubled on the G an octave below the open G. The circles are represented by mostly half notes in the electric bass, which change pitch and overlap with each new bubble. The pitches of these half notes are determined by the proximity of the circles to the "life line." The lower the circle the lower the pitch, and the higher on the page the circle is, the higher the pitch is. This electric bass part will be multitracked with three different electric bass parts, to really hear the exactly overlap of the long tone notes. The square around the circle is an electric bass harmonic sounding at the same time as a fretted electric bass note. The lines between the numbers "3" and "1" are going to be a coin scraping against the G, D, A, and E string in that order on the electric bass. The lines that curve upwardly into the Square/Circle will be played by the electric bass, and is notated on my new score as "NOISE" starting quietly and building into the harmonic.

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